Comprehensive exams

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I’ve been pretty quiet on my blog and other social media lately because I am preparing to take my comprehensive exams October 2-4. My areas of expertise for these exams are 1) Rhetorical genre theory, with a focus on genres and new media; 2) Rhetoric of science, with a concentration on the scientific article; and 3) Digital media theory, with a focus on the Internet. As I wrote about in my summer to do list post, I completed all my reading by the first week in September, which has given me a month of synthesizing my notes and prewriting. I find that I am writing a LOT everyday in an attempt to put together sources, ideas, and theories in a way that might be agreeable to my committee.

Despite my extensive planning and preparation for exams, I’m still pretty nervous. I know I can do it. The thing is that doctoral exams are an occluded genre (from Swales): they are out of sight for PhD students until you’re right upon them. How can you prepare to write something you’ve never seen before? It’s a tricky rhetorical situation.

I’m nine days out, and I don’t really have any sage advice for others preparing for their own exams. I broke down all my lists into strict reading schedules, stuck with them resolutely with only a rare exception, and diligently took notes (which is hands down the slowest part of the reading process). At the advice of some fellow CRDMers, I’m putting my syntheses, notes on key theories and authors, and other ideas about my lists into Evernote, using different notes and tags to help me easily find everything I’ve written. I think I’ll write a post about using Evernote once I’ve gotten through the experience that will hopefully be helpful to those in the early stages of exam prep.

September has been a whirlwind month for me, with exam prep of course, but also co-teaching, serving as an RA for my dissertation chair, co-editing a special issue of Enculturation (out early October!), working on a manuscript R&R, along with the madness at home with my husband working 80 hour weeks for his busy season and the tragic death of his cousin. Here’s to a more pleasant October, with a trip to the beach planned post-exams, a “family” wedding, and a visit from my sister. And, of course, finishing my dissertation prospectus.

See you on the other side!